Rethinking entrepreneurship in SA

A part-time short course to empower T-shaped business managers

14 September 2020 - 11:37
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Intrapreneurs who show visionary leadership and stimulate creative thinking are in high demand and short supply.
Intrapreneurs who show visionary leadership and stimulate creative thinking are in high demand and short supply.
Image: 123RF/Costasz

Almost 80% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in SA fail within the first three years. This statistic presents a staggering blow to the SA economy, which is invested in the role of SMEs in stimulating economic growth and providing relief from a high unemployment rate. Entrepreneurs who venture forth and create new business opportunities face extraordinary challenges in SA.

Inside larger, more stable organisations, the management portfolio has expanded to incorporate a new skill set. Managers now need to be leaders who develop their people and innovate, stimulate thinking and are agile and responsive to change. Intrapreneurs, organisational managers who display visionary leadership and stimulate the creative thinking that unlocks new business potential, are in high demand and short supply.

Why are entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs not successful?

A study showed that SMEs fail as a result of both external and internal factors: the SA economic and business landscape and the impact of globalisation make it challenging for any entrepreneur to succeed.

As managers of SMEs, entrepreneurs struggle to get the right talent to fuel business success. They also lack the knowledge, skills and experience to secure business funding and manage resources and finances effectively. With no business insight and not enough money and resources, even the most visionary entrepreneurs will encounter doors slamming in their faces.

Leaders in organisations do not fare much better. SA leaders are focused on developing their skill set to manage the organisation of the future. Old ways of managing have been disrupted with concepts such as collaboration, agility, innovation and cross-functionality. SA organisational managers face the same battle that the managers of SMEs face — there simply isn’t enough talent to drive business success. Without the skills to unlock potential in themselves or others, business managers are unable to open the doors to new opportunities.

The T-shaped solution 

From these challenges, it's clear that managing a small business or a business unit in a large organisation requires a skill set that will create a well-rounded, informed and visionary business leader.

Tim Brown, leader of global design company Ideo, proposes the concept of a T-shaped individual who has developed deep technical expertise in their area. These experts often become managers of their own business or a business unit because they are just so good at what they do.

However, this deep expertise is not enough; leaders of the future should have a broad skill set, characterised by the horizontal line of the T. This skill set should include people skills, the ability to collaborate across business functions, a basic understanding of other business areas, and growth that spans across organisations or businesses.

Today’s business managers should be able to understand and leverage the broader business landscape, balancing their expertise with a wide swath of cross-functional business insights that will allow them to play comfortably with others and navigate the broader business landscape.

Without a cross-functional skill set, business managers will stick to what they know and neglect what lies beyond their scope. The resulting imbalance will see areas of the business wither away for lack of attention, fuelling the high failure rates of SMEs and the challenges that keep organisational managers awake at night.

The Wits Plus Business Management Essentials short course provides entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs with a broad view of the business landscape and aims to produce T-shaped business managers, with deep expertise in their own fields, as well as broad, cross-functional business savvy.

Wits Plus, the Centre for Part-Time Studies at the University of Witwatersrand, offers selected undergraduate degrees, as well as a wide range of short courses and language programmes through the language school. A growing range of online short courses that enable you to study when it suits you are also available through the digital campus. E-mail wits.plus.marketing@wits.ac.za for more information.

This article was paid for by Wits Plus.